Author’s note: Campaign-style furniture is probably the first style of furniture I became aware of as a child. My grandparents collected it, and my grandfather and father both built pieces in this style while I was growing up.
But it was
stupidly impossible a little trying to get my fellow editors at Popular Woodworking Magazine interested in publishing any pieces in this style. I tried for years while I was employed there. Then I proposed several articles as a freelance writer. All were turned down.
Fed up, I threatened to take my proposals to Fine Woodworking instead. And finally, Popular Woodworking got real interested.
The articles were received well enough that I decided to write this book. There are few readily available sources on Campaign furniture, which is amazing as it spanned 200 years and traveled all over the globe (a result of the British Empire’s expansion). Plus, this style influenced many Danish Modern designers.
So I traveled to Great Britain to learn about it first hand from the experts at Christopher Clarke Antiques, and to dig through military records.
“Campaign Furniture” has sold fairly well – we’re in our fourth printing. And someday I hope to write a follow-up book on the furniture that resulted when the woodworkers in the British colonies got a hold of these forms and interpreted them. It’s amazing stuff.
— Christopher Schwarz
Editor’s note: Hmmm…I don’t remember ever turning down a freelance article from Chris…wasn’t me!
The following is excerpted from Christopher Schwarz’s “Campaign Furniture.”
The shelves I built for this book are based on a unit I admired in one of the Christopher Clarke Antiques catalogs. The original was made from teak; mine is mahogany. While the only joinery in the whole project is cutting two dados, you will become quite an expert at installing butt hinges. It takes 12 hinges to get the whole thing to work. And installing the hinges precisely makes the shelf unit sturdier and makes it collapse more smoothly.
Begin With the Uprights
The two ends of the unit – called the uprights – look best if made from a board that is the full 9-1/2″ width and has the grain’s cathedral running up its middle. If wood is scarce, the shelves can be made from narrower boards that are glued up the final width. The shelves are usually covered by books, so they don’t show.
Cut the uprights to 24-1/8″ long. The extra 1/8″ is for the kerf when separating the top from the bottom. Before making this critical crosscut, mark the uprights with a cabinetmaker’s triangle so you can easily distinguish how the pieces should be reassembled with hinges.
Then crosscut the uprights at 11-1/4″ up from the base.
Before installing the hinges, cut the decorative shapes at the top and bottom of the uprights. The base is half of a circle with a 3″ radius. The top is a simple ogee that is 2-1/2″ tall and switches from concave to convex on the center of the width of the upright.
Now is the best time to remove any machine marks from the uprights. You’ll find that planing or sanding the boards after installing the hinges is a bad idea – it can make the mechanism sloppy.
When you hinge the two pieces of the upright together, you want zero gap between the top and bottom piece. Lay out the location of the hinge mortises with care. Mine are set in 1/2″ from the long edges of the uprights. And before you cut the mortises, clamp the top and bottom of the upright together and show the hinge to your layout lines. They should match.
Chop out the mortises and clean up the bottom of each mortise with a router plane. The depth of these mortises should be the exact thickness of the hinge’s leaf.
I install hinges with the assistance of a center punch and a birdcage awl. Punch in at each hole in the hinge leaf. Drill your pilot hole. Follow that up with a few twists of the awl. This three-step process makes a nice tapered hole for the screws.
When installing a lot of brass screws, I make life easier by cutting the threads in my pilot holes with a steel screw that is identical to my brass ones. I’ll drive the steel screw into each hole with an electric drill/driver. Then retract it. This makes it simple to install the brass screws without chewing up their slots.
With the hinges installed on both uprights, determine a good location for the dado that will hold the sliding shelf. The dado has to miss the screws from your hinges and be in a place that will fit your books both above and below the removable shelf. My dado is located 3/4″ up from the bottom edge of the top upright.
Remove the hinges and cut the 3/4″-wide x 3/8″-deep dado on both uprights.
Hinge the Shelves
The next step is to install the hinges on the shelves. Install hinges on the underside of the top shelf and the top surface of the lowest shelf. These hinge mortises are also set 1/2″ in from the long edges of the shelves and the depth of the mortises is the same as the thickness of the hinge leaf.
Install all eight hinges before attempting to attach anything to the uprights.
The next part is where you need to be careful. If you make a mistake the shelves will not fold flat. Here’s the important fact to remember: The hinge barrels of the top and bottom shelves need to be equidistant from the hinge barrels in the uprights.
On this unit, that magic distance is 7-1/4″.
Put another way, the top surface of the bottom shelf needs to be 7-1/4″ from the hinge barrels in the uprights. And the bottom surface of the top shelf needs to be 7-1/4″ from the hinge barrels in the uprights.
As much as I dislike measuring, this is one place where it’s difficult to avoid. Lay out the location of the hinge mortises on the uprights for the bottom shelf only. Then do something that could very well save your bacon: Place the parts on your bench in a pseudo dry-fit and check your layout a few times.
The hinge mortises in the uprights are different than the mortises everywhere else in this project. For one, they are larger because they have to hold both the leaf and the barrel of each hinge. Second, they need to be deeper than the thickness of the hinge leaf.
If you make these mortises too shallow, the finished unit will wobble. If you make the mortises too deep, the hinge will bind and nothing will open or close.
How deep should each hinge mortise be? The thickness of the hinge plus half of the complete hinge barrel (that’s both the knuckle and the pin). On your first mortise, my advice is to sneak up on the perfect depth. When you find the proper depth, the shelves will stop at a perfect 90° to the upright.
Then lock in that depth on your router plane and don’t change it until you are done mortising.
Screw the bottom shelf in place. The uprights should fold flat against the bottom shelf. With the unit all folded up, you can use the layout marks to put the upper shelf in the correct spot without any real measuring.
Make the four mortises for the top shelf and screw everything together. The unit should fold completely flat. If it won’t fold flat, your mortises are in the wrong place.
The Middle Shelf
Cut the middle shelf to its finished length and plane it until it fits snug but slides smoothly into its dado. To increase the stability of the unit, I added a 2″-wide “dropped edge” to the underside of the shelf. Usually a “dropped” edge acts like a brace to keep a shelf from sagging. In this case it helps stabilize the carcase.
I cut the dropped edge to a too-tight fit between the uprights and used a shooting board and a plane to get it to fit just right. Then I glued it to the underside of the middle shelf while the middle shelf was in place between the uprights.
Finishing the Bookshelves
Take the shelves apart and clean up any tool marks you missed before. Remember: The less material you remove the sturdier the shelves will be. Break the boards’ sharp edges with sandpaper or a plane.
This project has a simple finishing schedule: two coats of garnet shellac followed by a coat of black wax. The shellac colors the mahogany a nice dark honey. The black wax gets lodged in the pores and ensures the other people on your voyage to India won’t think you a “griffin” who is out on your first tour.
19 thoughts on “Collapsible Bookshelf”
Can’t wait for that update : those are some of my favourite furniture and I am in love those “series” (Anarchist: I know it’s not part of it but feels like it )
I always seem to have problems with the formatting of your articles in my email. Is there something different that you do from Chris and the others?
We all use the same formatting, as far as I know. I’m sorry you’re having trouble with it though.
On the top “Assembled” drawing it looks like there’s a dropped edge at the back of the top shelf rather than the middle one. It seems to me this would stop the piece collapsing. Am I reading the drawing wrong, or maybe failing to understand the mechanism?
Ha. I think I drew it wrong. The dropped edge is definitely on the middle shelf.
I was just getting ready to comment on the same thing. First seeing it on my phone I knew there was something I wasn’t understanding. Now, at my computer, I think the measured drawing is wrong, and as you are correct, it would not fold/collapse. The photo, however, shows it being attached to the middle, removable shelf, which makes sense.
Do you think it might make measurement easier if you make a story pole? Of course you have to get the story pole right, but then as Bob Van Dyke says, “It’s measure once and cut 100 times.”
I bought my copy in June and I’m already going through it for a second time, absolutely fantastic book!
I have the book, of course. I would be even more interested in the follow-up than I was the original. I look forward to it, some day.
I’ve got mixed feelings about this. I like it and hate it at the same time.
What size hinges are appropriate for this book case?
These look like 2” to me…my best guess is that they are Horton Brasses PB-407
One of my favorite books. I did not know anything about Campaing Furniture, and it was a fascinating discovery for me. Not the most complicated piece, but the Strong Trunk struck me as a masterpiece. The choice of wood, the proportions, the treatment of the screw heads, all the morticed brass,… man it looks good!
Is the weight of books on the bottom shelf supported only by the shelf hanging from the 4 bottom hinges?
Yes (but it’s a small shelf; can’t put a literal ton of books on a shelf)
Editor’s note: Hmmm…I don’t remember ever turning down a freelance article from Chris…wasn’t me!
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story……..
Oh I got rejected by PW. Just not by Fitz. She wasn’t the editor at the time. Matthew Teague was.
So I stand by my story.
Iwish there were some photos of the folding up process. I am having difficulty visualizing how the fold-up happens.
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